The relationship between freely chosen cadence and optimal cadence in cycling

Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2012 Dec;7(4):375-81. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.7.4.375. Epub 2012 Jul 31.


Purpose: The main aim of this study was to compare the freely chosen cadence (FCC) and the cadence at which the blood lactate concentration at constant power output is minimized (optimal cadence [Copt]). The second aim was to examine the effect of a concomitant change of road incline and body position on FCC, the maximal external power output (Pmax), and the corresponding Copt.

Methods: FCC, Copt, and Pmax were analyzed under 2 conditions: cycling on level ground in a dropped position (LGDP) and cycling uphill in an upright position (UHUP). Seven experienced cyclists participated in this study. They cycled on a treadmill to test the 2 main hypotheses: Experienced cyclists would choose an adequate cadence close to Copt independent of the cycling condition, and FCC and Copt would be lower and Pmax higher for UHUP than with LGDP.

Results: Most but not all experienced cyclists chose an adequate cadence close to Copt. Independent of the cycling condition, FCC and Copt were not statistically different. FCC (82.1 ± 11.1 and 89.3 ± 10.6 rpm, respectively) and Copt (81.5 ± 9.8 and 87.7 ± 10.9 rpm, respectively) were significantly lower and Pmax was significantly higher (2.0 ± 2.1%) for UHUP than for LGDP.

Conclusion: Most experienced cyclists choose a cadence near Copt to minimize peripheral fatigue at a given power output independent of the cycling condition. Furthermore, it is advantageous to use a lower cadence and a more upright body position during uphill cycling.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bicycling*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / blood
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle Fatigue
  • Muscle Strength*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Posture*
  • Time Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Lactic Acid